REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: A crisis, without hint of hyperbole

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by ACM digital news editor Janine Graham.

How about some leadership on homelessness. Photo: Shutterstock

How about some leadership on homelessness. Photo: Shutterstock

Finland. A role model for Australia? Well, c'mon, why not?

We're at the tail end of Homelessness Week and it's been seriously depressing and seriously inspirational in equal parts.

Nary a nation worldwide is untouched by the phenomenon and in Australia, few communities are untouched, too.

It is, without hint of hyperbole, a crisis.

But there's no "official strategy" and a lack of investment in new housing is at the root of the issue, Roxanne Fitzgerald wrote in the Katherine Times this week.

It leaves a number of amazing organisations, agencies and welfare groups to support the community as best they can. And that's happening - in spades.

HELP WANTED: Samuel Crowson is caught in Katherine's housing crisis but makes use of the invaluable Katherine Doorways Hub.

HELP WANTED: Samuel Crowson is caught in Katherine's housing crisis but makes use of the invaluable Katherine Doorways Hub.

As is the case in Bendigo, Victoria, more than 3300km - and many degrees in temperature - further south. Elspeth Kernebone detailed the work of the city's Winter Night Shelter in The Courier.

Again, the numbers are significant: 10 guests; 14 churches, 92 nights and a heartening 260 volunteers.

In the NSW Central West, CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes provided 2396 nights of emergency accommodation last year, the Parkes Champion-Post revealed.

"An overwhelming majority of people are on benefits and are instantly priced out of the real estate market, so many have to resort to couch surfing, sleeping in cars, caravan parks or staying in already overcrowded homes," team leader Andrew Bament said.

On the other side of the country in Western Australia, Mandurah Mail reporter Carla Hildebrandt detailed the situations of four men in the first of an ongoing series on homelessness.

No surprises, addiction, mental health issues, financial hardship and relationship breakdowns figured prominently in discussions. So, too, did couch-surfing and squatting.

It was a family issue that meant teen Katarna Grout resorted to couch-surfing, the Illawarra Mercury reported.

But again, thanks to the support of agencies - and a willingness to ask for help, Katarna's future is looking brighter.

"When you start talking and get help, it gets easier."

ONWARDS, UPWARDS: Wollongong Homeless Hub client Katarna Grout. Photo: Robert Peet

ONWARDS, UPWARDS: Wollongong Homeless Hub client Katarna Grout. Photo: Robert Peet

Wollongong Homeless Hub provided her with crisis accommodation, then transitional housing and, only this week, has helped her into a private rental.

So Finland? How has it bucked the trend of increasing levels of homelessness plaguing Europe? It turned the process on its head.

There is an acknowledgment that social issues (family breakdown, severe substance abuse or mental health problems) are intrinsically linked to homelessness. But sort out your problems and the government will offer you a home.

The foundation of the Housing First policy is that having a permanent home can make solving health and social problems much easier. Individually tailored support services follow.

The homeless are given permanent housing on a normal lease. That can range from a self-contained apartment to a housing block with round-the-clock support.

A small population (5.6 million) no doubt helps but Housing First is a mainstream national homelessness policy. Of course, there has been opposition but the homelessness rate has dropped every year since the policy was introduced in 2007.

Australia has a homelessness problem; an annual week-long national conversation; and increasingly unaffordable housing. But still no national homelessness policy.

Leadership, anyone?

Janine Graham, ACM digital editor

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